As the 2013 PGA season begins, pro-golfer Bubba Watson, winner of the 2012 Master’s Tournament, reveals that he has been sidelined in the past by panic attacks, both off and on the green.
In a press conference before this week’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, Watson was asked to comment on fellow golfer Charlie Beljan, who experienced a panic attack during competition at a tournament in November.
Watson, 34, said he knows how Beljan felt because he, too, experienced a panic attack at a tournament — in 2011 at the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles, which led him to withdraw. Watson also reports having a history of panic attacks.
“I’ve had a lot of panic attacks off the golf course,” described Watson. “I actually went to the hospital three times thinking I was having something wrong with my heart and my wife is like, ‘What is wrong with you?’ “
Because so many of the symptoms of a panic attack mimic those of a heart attack, Watson is not alone in mistaking the signs of panic for a heart-related problem. Defined as a sudden onset of intense anxiety that lasts for several hours before subsiding, common symptoms of a panic attack can include:
- Racing heart
- Feeling weak, faint, or dizzy
- Tingling or numbness in the hands and fingers
- Sense of terror, of impending doom or death
- Feeling sweaty or having chills
- Chest pains and breathing difficulties
- Feeling a loss of control.
While many times panic attacks seem to happen with no known trigger, stress, low blood sugar, and thyroid problems can help to precipitate attacks. Panic attacks, and panic disorder, can be treated in a variety of ways, including relaxation techniques and the possible use of medication. However, Watson states that he is not using anti-anxiety medication. “I don’t take medicine, so I would never do that.”
Charlie Beljan, 28, tells the Los Angeles Times that he is taking the natural route to healing his panic thought the use of nutritional therapy. The self-proclaimed picky eater, said his potassium and sodium levels were dangerously low when he was hospitalized after his panic attack. Beljan said he would go up to 24 hours without eating — a habit he has now given up in the hope of fending off future panic attacks.
“I used to laugh at guys on the tour, always pulling candy bars out of their bags in the middle of the round,” he admits. “Now I know why.”
Just like Watson, “I thought I was having a heart attack,” Beljan told ABC News. He describes playing 18 holes through anxiety symptoms so severe he thought he might pass out. “I told the caddy, I said, ‘I’m not leaving here until I’m getting carted off from the middle of the fairway or somewhere.’”
Beljan eventually headed to the hospital where he was told he was experiencing a panic attack.
As for the future, Watson is trying to inject some humor — rather than feel fear — over the prospect of having another bout of anxiety.
“It might be this year,” Watson joked. “So this year, get ready. I’ll tweet some photos from the room, I guess.”